The re-entry of Elvis Presley’s That’s All Right into the charts in Britain fifty years after it was first released in the US is a success story for BMG but one which possibly will be very short lived. Unless there are changes in UK (and European copyright law with which UK law is now harmonised) the track will fall into the public domain on January 1, 2005 and anyone will be able to use the sound recording without paying royalties to the owners of the master. Landmark rock ‘n’ roll recordings such as Presley’s That’s All Right and Shake, Rattle and Roll by Bill Haley and his Comets also come out of copyright in Europe in January next year. Over the next few years, major hits by acts such as Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Bo Diddley and Fats Domino will also come into the public domain. The Beatles’ catalogue would begin to become freely available from 1 January 2013, with their first single Love Me Do. The band’s entire repertoire – the most prized catalogue in rock music – would follow over the next eight years.
The song (the musical composition) will remain in copyright though. Copyright in sound recordings lasts for fifty (50) years from the end of the year of release. Copyright in compositions (music and lyrics) lasts for seventy (70) years from the death of the author(s) under the Copyright Designs & Patents Act 1988 (as amended).
BMG will continue to own the rights to the recording in the US. Under the 1998 “Sonny Bono” Copyright Term Extension Act, sound recordings are protected for 95 years from the day of recording in the United States and for post-1976 recordings, coverage is the artist’s life plus 70 years. The Elvis case illustrates the importance of the issue for record companies in Europe. It also highlights the discrepancy between Europe and the United States. Many recordings from the ’50s and then the ’60s will start falling into public domain in the coming years and its not surprising that the extension of the term of duration of recording rights is the music industry’s main priority on the legislative agenda in Europe with extensive lobbying from the IFPI – the IFPI has started a campaign to raise awareness among policy makers and legislators on the issue. It targets EU member states, the EC and the Parliament. The BPI argue that less favourable copyright terms could put the UK’s record industry at a commercial disadvantage to the US.
See : http://www.ifpi.org
See an interesting comment on this area ‘Elvis Has Left The Building – Time To Free His Works Too’ by Becky Hogge at: http://www.indexonline.org/news/20040812_unitedstates.shtml